Nigeria: November 20, 2003

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The health crises continues in northern Nigeria, where Moslem leaders have been urging their followers not to let their children take polio vaccine. Years of anti-Christian, and especially anti-American Moslem propaganda has resulted in a widely believed fear that the vaccine actually makes the female children sterile and is part of a plot to kill off all Africans. Some of the Moslem religious leaders have admitted that this is absurd, but it is what many northern Nigerians believe and few leaders are willing to preach against it. Islamic religious leaders also have problems (as do their Christian compatriots) with the persistence of belief in magic. This is common throughout Africa, and is often used by local leaders to control populations. For example, an accusation of witchcraft can get you killed (often in a gruesome fashion) or driven from your village. This belief in magic plays an important role in African warfare and military affairs, usually to the detriment of the practitioners (as there have been no verified instances of magic making anyone bulletproof, while Western protective vests will.)

Since a lot of the hostility is directed against the US (which supplies most of the vaccine, and many of the field workers who help to deliver it), it has been suggested that if Americans were withdrawn from the program, it might be possible to convince Moslem parents to allow their children to be vaccinated. Polio outbreaks still occur in northern Nigeria, killing and crippling thousands of children each year. While this is tragic enough, the resistance to vaccination in northern Nigeria is preventing an attempt by the World Health Organization to wipe out polio completely.

 

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